In February of 2016 we spent several days hiking in the Patagonia region which is in the extreme southern portion of Chile and Argentina. We were part of a tour run by Mountain Hiking Holidays. We spent time in two parks: Los Glaciares National Park and Torres del Paine National Park. The trip was marvelous: stunning scenery, nice lodging, very good to excellent meals and excellent guides. We were also the beneficiaries of excellent weather. We had been told to prepare for some nasty weather, but it never materialized for us. Rather we were able to see parts of the landscape that were only occasionally visible for many travelers.
This part of the world is sparsely populated. The vast, windswept plains of Patagonia is a good description of southern Argentina. Few roads of any kind. Think the midwest of the US with the Rocky Mountains on the western edge. For most, the only reason to be in Patagonia is the spectacular mountains which are a southern extension of the Andes. Also remember that this area is getting rather close to Antarctica which means that the glaciers can occur at much lower elevations as compared to areas farther north. The prominent trees in this area are three species of Notofagus (southern beech) which are native to the southern hemisphere.
Los Glaciares National Park
On the drive from the airport in El Calafate to El Chalten we visited the Glaciar Perito Moreno. Here we had an marvelous view of the glacier which rises about 200 ft above the surface of the water–Lago Argentino. Very inspiring. The blue color of the ice results from the significant compression of the ice. Our base of operations for the hikes in this park was the town of El Chalten. Currently the main function of the town is to serve the people who want to hike in the park. Thus there are numerous lodging options and restaurants with a couple of outdoor equipment stores. The town styles itself as Argentina’s trekking capital. It looked like everyone was a hiker. Our three hikes from El Chalten provided marvelous views of the Fitz Roy section of the Los Glaciaes National Park. Each hike provided a different viewpoint of the area providing a better idea of the area than we generally get on our hikes. The prominent peaks are Fitz Roy Mountain (3405 m) and Torre Mountain (3102 m). In addition there are several glaciers and lakes. The ever changing clouds and viewpoints caused an uncontrollable pressing of the shutter button.
Torres del Paine National Park
We next had a travel day from Los Glaciares to Torres del Paine. The drive was 265 miles mainly because of the lack of roads in the area. We arrived at our lodging, Hotel Lago Grey, late in the afternoon. The weather was cloudy, windy and chilly but the Hotel was excellent–located on edge of Lago Grey with spectacular views of the surrounding mountains and glaciers. The side of the dinning room and lounge were all windows. This setting was a strong incentive to skip the hiking!
The next morning we hiked along Lago Grey and up a small outcrop which provided views of the surrounding mountains and several icebergs. In the afternoon I opted for and additional 1900-foot climb to the Ferrier Viewpoint. This turned out to be a basically straight up the mountain hike for which I was not really prepared. It was the kind of hike where you start thinking about how to reward yourself after this strenuous effort. Reaching the viewpoint I was greeted with clouds, heavy wind (40 miles and hour) and low temperatures. I had to quickly add extra clothing including a hat with ear flaps while keeping them from flying off in the wind. I grabbed a couple of photos and immediately headed back. I had pretty well destroyed my thighs on the way up and going down was not pleasant. First time that I have had to rest going down. Glaciar Grey is at the north end of the lake but was only partially visible through the clouds. However, on our last morning the sky was clear and we were treated to a striking sunrise.
Our next hike was up the Valle de Frances. I had a great view of the valley’s location when I hiked to the Ferrier Viewpoint the day before. We had to take a ferry on the Lago Pehoe to reach the start of the hike. This was an enjoyable walk with a lunch stop providing views of the Paine Grande and glacier.
After the hike we drove to a new lodging, Hosteria Las Torres, nestled at the base of mountains. Our hike from here took us up to Mirador de las Torres which is the moraine at the base of the Towers Glacier. Unfortunately it was a cloudy day but the clouds occasionally dissipated enough so I could see the rock towers of the Torres del Paine. The photos do not convey the awe you experience in actually being there.
From the Hosteria Las Torres we had a long drive through the ‘pampas’ of Argentina to Punta Arenas which is the end point of the trip. Along the way we stopped at Laguna Amarga where we saw some flamingos. Punta Arenas is located on the Strait of Magellan. This is likely the farthest south we will get so we walked to the beach for a hand dip in the water. The down has some interesting architecture including wall paintings.
Click to see the images of Glaciar Perito Moreno and Fitz Roy
Click to see the images of Torres del Paine
Click to see the images of plants of Patagonia